Athens Digest 05.02.2019

• Government restores majority as six opposition MPs pledge support

• On fence-mending mission, Tsipras visits Turkey

• Commission monitoring Albania land seizures

• Poor services performance drags on economic sentiment index

# The government has formally restored its majority in parliament after six opposition MPs declared their support in letters to the speaker. The lawmakers include current and former members of the Independent Greeks party (ANEL), exacerbating the January split that could see the former junior coalition partner lose its status as a parliamentary party. The six MPs have not officially joined Syriza’s 145-member parliamentary group but have pledged to back the government and its legislative initiatives. Analysts consider this a strong message by the PM, responding to accusations against him by ANEL’s leader Panos Kammenos.

Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras begins a two-day visit to Turkey today that will include meetings with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and is aimed at ending the upturn in tension between the two Aegean Sea neighbours. Tsipras will travel to Ankara and Istanbul and visit Hagia Sophia as well as the island of Halki together with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew. The atmosphere between the two countries has soured further since a visit by Erdogan to Greece December in 2017 over disputed drilling rights in the eastern Mediterranean. Tsipras told Turkey’s Anadolu Agency that he hoped to continue “the difficult but frank dialogue” that started during that 2017 visit. In response to a written question by Greek Euro-MP Kostas Chrysogonos, EU High Representative Federica Mogherini urged Turkey “to avoid threats and actions that harm good neighbourly relations” with Cyprus and other EU member states.

#  In a separate complaint, MEP Chrysogonos noted claims made by members of the ethnic Greek minority in southern Albania that property in minority areas was being expropriated for tourism development without a fair compensation process. The Albanian government has denied the claims but in response to the complaint, the EU Commission said it is monitoring the property seizures, adding that the Albanian government had delayed making progress in creating a clear legal framework for land expropriation and compensation.

The economic sentiment in Greece has suffered a two-point drop in January to 99.6, following a poor performance by services. The monthly survey by Greece’s Foundation for Economic and Industrial Research, IOBE, found that improvements in construction, industry, retail and consumer confidence were all offset by the negative development in the services sector. The results, IOBE said, reflect ongoing uncertainty over Greece’s post-bailout course, unease on international markets, and the threat to reforms posed by the lengthy election build-up.

On our Radar: New “installments battle” or “negotiation tricks”?
Creditors are showing increasing consternation at measures being announced by Athens in the run-up to elections this year. At last week’s Euro Working Group meeting, the institutions and eurozone government representatives expressed disappointment at the limited progress made on Greece’s prior actions as well as questions about the minimum wage hike of nearly 11 percent. Nevertheless, reports followed yesterday referred to government plans to increase the number of installments in tax arrears settlement plans from 12 to 24 _ a measure that creditors have clearly ruled out in the past.